This week’s Gospel is quite challenging. Jesus begins by stating the Old Testament law that established a legal principle of an “eye for an eye”. This law intended to prevent excessive revenge so that punishments were proportional to the offence. However, human nature is to retaliate plus one, meaning if you slap me, I’ll punch you. This pattern of revenge turns petty insults into riots and minor crimes into wars. But God’s teaching about an “eye for an eye” was meant to limit violence, not encourage it.
Jesus reveals the true intent God has for His people. God’s will is that we do not take revenge at all; instead, He intends us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Sometimes this is easy. For instance, if someone doesn’t like you, there is a degree of separation. You don’t know why they don’t like you, and they can’t, don’t or won’t explain why. In these cases, it is somewhat easy to forgive them because there is that unknowing between you. Other times it is difficult, and forgiveness takes time, such as dealing with abuse, violence and bullying. Then there are times when the one persecuting us is ourselves.
You stay up late the night before a big workday and sleep through all your alarms. Now you’re running late, and the rest of the day, you will blame yourself for not going to bed earlier, feeling groggy and being behind in everything you had to do today. During these times, we must understand our own vengeance and forgive ourselves. The love of God is a love that helps us forgive and love ourselves and fill the space inside us that can forgive and love others as well.
The Gospel ends with Jesus saying, “You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect”. To be perfect is to become like God in compassion and love. We must ask Him to help us forgive and, when we cannot, be patient with ourselves as He is with us.